How Colton Underwood Bucked the 'Bachelor' Format

ABC's The Bachelor is famous for how quickly it can make contestants fall in love. But if you break down how much time Colton Underwood and Cassie Randolph actually spent together before she decided to leave the show (and he famously hopped a fence), it boils down to a matter of days.

"We had our Thailand one-on-one date, group dates and then hometown," Randolph tells The Hollywood Reporter of their pre-Portugal courtship. Adds Underwood, "We did not have a ton of time."

Underwood and Randolph on Wednesday spoke to THR after a whirlwind 48 hours (watch in the video player, above). Following a two-night live finale in Los Angeles where they revealed they are currently dating, the couple — who refer to themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend — flew to New York, where they did a full morning of TV press. They were asked about everything from not being engaged to Randolph's flip-flopping and Underwood's virginity (or lack thereof, now that he's found "the one").

As they sit down with THR, the pair say they have slept less than an hour. "We're running on love!" Randolph says with a giggle.

The Bachelor couple is being praised for making realistic choices and delivering the most "normal" finale in recent franchise history. Underwood, 27, convinced Randolph, 23, to give their relationship a second chance by promising that he wouldn't pressure an engagement at the end. By not proposing, Underwood became only the second Bachelor star in the last 12 seasons to not pop the question. Underwood's finale actually aligns with the less predictable earlier seasons of The Bachelor, which launched back in 2002.

"Coming into this, I was open and ready for an engagement," Randolph tells THR about the hypothetical idea of finding a forever love on the ABC reality show. But when it became a reality heading into their overnight date in Portugal, only two weeks out from the end, she changed her mind. "I didn’t realize how little time I would get to really be sure of that lifelong commitment."

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel spoke for many in the show's audience — who are collectively called "Bachelor Nation" — when he quipped to Randolph on Tuesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, "Have you not watched The Bachelor?" Randolph says she understands that some people can know right away, but that just didn't happen to her.

"You see so many couples coming out of [the show] being happy and engaged. And I still think it can work for some people. But for me, I just didn’t have that time to get there," she tells THR. "That wasn’t to say that I didn’t think we would ever get there. I thought it was possible, but I wasn’t sure. And that’s why I had to leave."

Her exit broke Underwood. He jumped a fence in Portugal, ran away from production and temporarily quit the show. But after talks with Chris Harrison and other producers, he decided to return on one condition — that he be allowed to risk it all and go convince Randolph to return to the show.

"Putting myself in her position, I see where she’s coming from and I see where her hesitations were," says Underwood, speaking now with the clarity of reflection. "So the only thing I could do, other than leave the show, was to just show her by my actions — ending the other two relationships and really giving her everything, because she had my heart."

He adds, "She still does."

Underwood broke up with his two blindsided finalists and fought for Randolph before she left Portugal. He promised her a relationship — not an engagement — for the second time. And he says he wasn't considering the thought that he might not have the authority to make that call at the time. "Forget the TV show, forget filming. I forgot cameras were there, I forgot producers and lighting. That was just me fighting for someone I loved and I cared for and I wanted to be with after all that went away," he says.

Underwood admits that he did feel "betrayed" by the breakup. Randolph's father, who never gave Underwood his permission for a proposal, was flown to Portugal to have another conversation with his confused daughter. The surprise visit played a part in Randolph deciding initially to leave the show. "I did feel frustrated and angry with Chris [Harrison] and production and you name it," Underwood says, putting words to the emotions viewers saw when he hopped that eight-foot fence.

But now that Underwood has Randolph in his life, he no longer feels that way about the show. "I’ve come back around to realizing, no matter how I felt in that moment, of 'they did me dirty' or whatever the case may be, they showed me how much I loved her," says the ABC star, who has appeared on three back-to-back Bachelor franchise cycles. "They showed me how badly I wanted our relationship to work and they brought her into my life. So I’m thankful for them."

Underwood has moved to Los Angeles to be closer to Randolph, and the pair even have a Neil Lane ring (gifted to them on Jimmy Kimmel Live!) that they can hold onto for the future. They're happy and excited and taking one day at a time, but they stop short at calling their happy ending a new trend for the franchise.

"I found myself doing things because I was the Bachelor and going along with it because I was the Bachelor. And that’s not right. And that was something I was no longer willing to do if it meant losing [Randolph]," says Underwood about bucking the show's so-called rules. "There are a bunch of unwritten rules but that’s all they are, is unwritten. I never got lectured for anything I said. I was never told to slow down or speed up. I went through it at my own pace and I stayed true to myself the whole time. So, looking back, I’m proud about that."

In paving his own way as the Bachelor, Underwood confessed to Randolph that she was the winner when other women were still in the competition; he temporarily quit the show; and he eliminated the only women he had left before knowing if Randolph would return. Then, he decided not to propose. Traditionally, all of those decisions are Bachelor no-nos.

"I’m a big believer in The Bachelor and the franchise. And I will go to bat for them, saying, it works," Underwood says about bending the format to his advantage. "The Bachelor is about finding love. And over the last few years, it sort of got twisted into this engagement. Which, obviously, an engagement is very possible. I found love. And what I came there for, I got."

Randolph says that if she had known an engagement was off the table, she would have acted differently that night in Portugal. "Looking back, it’s kind of crazy how much pressure I was putting on myself in that moment. You can’t stop overthinking," she says of the show so often ending with a ring. "That’s kind of the whole premise of the show! If I had known that not getting engaged wouldn’t have been a very big deal, I probably wouldn’t have been so freaking conflicted and confused at the end of it."

Perhaps that's why she decided to let go when it came time for the cameras to film the pair's delayed Fantasy Suite date, when they cheekily kicked production out of their hotel suite to enjoy their first night alone and off-camera. Despite Harrison heavily teasing an answer to whether or not Underwood lost his virginity that night, or thereafter, Underwood remained a gentleman and only hinted that viewers could "use their imagination."

Randolph admits that it's "definitely weird" to have the world so invested in their sex life, but acknowledges, "We signed up for this show, so we kind of did it to ourselves!" She then offers up one final thought on the topic: "Regarding Colton’s virginity, we decided that we’re going to close that door and stop the conversations from going any further. I feel like there’s nothing really you can say to fully stop the conversations unless we just shut that door."

As the franchise always does, the cycle will go on. Tuesday's show announced the next star of The Bachelorette as Underwood's former contestant Hannah Brown. Her 15th season begins filming this week and is set to return May 13 to ABC. 

"I encourage everybody to go through it and stay true to themselves 100 percent, and make decisions that are best for them and whoever they’re in that relationship with," says Underwood, speaking to the future leads. "And I mean that from what I did all the way to getting married. If they feel that confident in their relationship and they want to get married on the show, get married! Just stay true to yourself and who you are. Dating was what was best for our relationship at that time. And we’ve been very, very happy since the ending of the show."

Adds Randolph, "We’re on the same page now. Which is really nice."